The aromas of peanut sauce, lemongrass, and spicy chili pastes drifting throughout the dining room at Araya's Place may seem familiar at first, but the eatery isn't like most Thai restaurants. It eschews meats and dairy entirely, forging a distinctive menu that led The Stranger to hail Araya's University District location as "Thai vegan heaven."
Working exclusively with GMO-free tofu and produce sourced from local farmers whenever possible, the chefs cook classic Thai dishes as well as a handful of slightly more imaginative creations. "I do not want to be only Thai vegetarian food," owner Araya Pudpard explained to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2008, "I want to be international vegan food."
The international twists are evident throughout the menu's otherwise familiar selection of stir-fried noodle dishes and aromatic curries. A m?lange of assorted garden vegetables, deep-fried and served with sweet-and-sour sauce, make up the veggie tempura, and the jasmine-tinged creme br?l?e conceals a vegan and gluten-free custard beneath a one-molecule-thin layer of crisp sugar.
But even with these occasional twists, Thai staples still dominate the menu's pages. One of the restaurant's more iconic dishes, the tom yum soup, is so spicy that it has appeared on the Food Network show Heat Seekers, which features two chefs who travel around the country looking for mouth-burning dishes and ice sculptures to lick afterward.
A two-story, 1930s Wallingford house with a pillared front porch and white clapboard siding isn?t the typical setting for pad thai and green curry, but Djan?s Thai Restaurant doesn?t have an interest in being ordinary. Inspired by the eclectic, global tastes of co-owners and brothers Tum and Lek, the restaurant prides itself on fusing East and West in both its menu and decor. Input from chefs in Bangkok and New York City helped create the menu, which tempts diners to sink chopsticks into contemporary versions of classic Thai dishes, such as wok-fried ginger beef or fried rice with pineapple and tofu. Foundational Thai ingredients?coconut milk, bamboo shoots, bell peppers, and basil leaves?still appear on plates, but they share the stage with Hawaiian-style prawns and Japanese shrimp tempura. Instead of washing down mouthfuls by drinking from a date's seltzer-filled boutonniere, diners can sip the vintages from Washington, California, and Chile that grace a hefty wine list.
Djan's decor reflects its cuisine?s multicultural influences with modern, geometric tables and backlit alcoves that give a nod to the past with lanterns and suspended silver bells. For those who would rather eat in the comfort of their own homes or need to feed a party, the restaurant also offers delivery and catering.
The Vibe: With its jazz soundtrack and spacious, warm-hued dining room, Jhanjay revels in a cozy blend of casualness and sophistication. High ceilings, exposed brick, and rustic wood encircle the tables.
Where to Sit: Grab a spot by the open kitchen, which encourages visual eavesdropping as the meals are made.
Inside Tip: Most of the dishes on the menu can be made vegan upon request.
Jhanjay: the Thai word for "vegetarian dishes"
While You’re in the Neighborhood: Before dinner, take a class at Seattle Mosaic Arts (1325 N. 46th Street), a welcoming community design space.
Despite its humble environs of a converted gas station, Savatdee Authentic Thai & Lao Cuisine has racked up a steadily climbing number of accolades. Seattle Met Magazine named it one of the best Laotian restaurants in 2011, an award the Sakounthong family proudly displays in their eatery. ?We want our food to speak like it is a five star restaurant, but we want the atmosphere to feel like you are eating in your own kitchen,? said Andy Sakounthong in an episode of Check Please!. Andy?along with his brother, parents, aunts, and grandmother?shop each morning for fresh ingredients and cartoon fire used in dishes that range from cornish game hen marinated in spiced curry to pad mar keur, a grilled-eggplant stir-fry with onions, basil leaves, and yellow-bean sauce. The more adventurous patron can order off of the Lao menu, where galangal and kaffir leaves season a dish of charbroiled chicken mixed with hearts and gizzards.
Where to Sit: May’s 100-year-old teak house, brought over from Thailand and lovingly reassembled, features a formal upstairs dining area. The romantic space showcases imported redwood furniture and a picture of the Thai royal family. Downstairs, you’ll find a more casual lounge space that’s no less regal, dotted with Thai decor and red and gold accents.
When to Go: May rolls out a truncated lunch menu, but the kitchen serves the full dinner menu well past midnight—the lounge itself closes at 2 a.m. each night.
While You’re Waiting
Galangal root: resembling ginger in appearance and flavor, though with a much stronger taste.
Tom yum: a hot-and-sour soup typically starring shrimp. Seasonings include lemongrass, kaffir lime, fish sauce, and chilies.
Where to Sit: Couples looking for a bit of privacy should request the back table that's partitioned off from the rest of the dining room and sits under its own wooden roof.
Insider Tip: Load up on veggies. According to The Stranger, "they work small miracles with green beans,"
Backstory: Jamjuree was originally founded in Bangkok by three sisters and one brother. When some of the family members immigrated to Seattle, they opened this American branch.
Massaman: a yellow Thai curry with Muslim origins. It features many traditional Thai ingredients, including coconut milk and bay leaves.
Satay: meat (or sometimes veggies or tofu) that’s been marinated and grilled on a skewer. At the table, it’s traditionally dipped in peanut sauce.
While You're in the Neighborhood:
For the Romantic: Pick up a bouquet of flowers to surprise a loved one or your favorite Jamjuree chef from Flowers on 15th (515 15th Avenue East)
For the Recycler: Browse the racks at Take 2 (430 15th Avenue East) and possibly give some stylish secondhand clothes a new home.